Food allergies affect approximately 5% of children under age 2. But since allergies are hereditary, your child is more likely to have them if you do— if one parent has allergies, your child has approximately 25% chance of developing an allergy; if both parents have allergies, your child has approximately 60-70% chance of developing an allergy.
Eight foods account for 90% of food allergies: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, pecans), fish, and shellfish. Although many children outgrow food allergies, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish tend to be life-long. The earlier the food is given to a child, the greater the chance that it will cause an allergy. For this reason, doctors advise parents to wait until your child is older to give some of the high-allergen foods.
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, in collaboration with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently published a brochure entitled, “Preventing or Delaying the Onset of Food Allergies in Infants.” These are the basic recommendations:
- Breastfeed your baby for at least 6 months. Breastfeeding can reduce the chance of allergies, eczema (skin rash) and asthma. For families with allergies, talk with your doctor about avoiding eating peanuts, tree nuts, and other allergens when nursing; or using hypo-allergenic formula (without cow’s milk or soy proteins) if you’re unable to breastfeed..)
- Wait until 4-6 months of age before giving your baby cereal and solid food. Allergic families should wait until 6 months. Start with rice cereal, vegetables that are not in the pea/bean family (these legumes are cousins to peanuts), meats, and non-citrus fruits. Try each new food for at least a few days to observe for allergic reactions such as swelling around the mouth, skin rash, vomiting, diarrhea, or breathing problems. If there’s a reaction, stop the food and contact your child’s doctor..)
- Wait until after your baby turns 1 year old to give cow’s milk and dairy products, egg whites (the white causes allergy, not the yolk), peanuts, nuts, fish, shellfish, and citrus fruits and juices. For allergenic families, also wait until after 1 year to give soy, wheat, and corn; wait until 2 years to give eggs; and wait until 3 years to give peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. (Remember—don’t give whole nuts to children under age 4 because they can choke on them.)
- For more information, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network at www.foodallergy.org.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.